Article on Teacher Education Programs at Community Colleges

The following article appeared in Community College Week,  a bi-weekly national publication providing in depth information for and about two-year colleges.  For more information visit 

POV: Myths and Realities

Sunday, January 25, 2009
Ray A. Ostos

As community colleges begin to emerge as a solution to the teacher quality and shortage issue, the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs is attempting to dispel persistent misperceptions people may have about the community college role in teacher education. What follows are 10 myths and realities about teacher education programs at community colleges.

Myth #1: Community colleges do not play a role in the preparation of teachers.

Reality: Community colleges play an essential and growing role in the preparation and professional development of teachers. Because of their geographic ubiquity, affordable tuition and close relationships with local school systems, community colleges are key players in providing the foundation for teacher preparation. In addition to offering the first two years of course requirements for a baccalaureate degree, community colleges offer coordinated programs for transfer; associate, post-baccalaureate and even baccalaureate degree programs; professional development opportunities for current educators; and comprehensive support services. 

Myth #2: Community college teacher education programs have existed for only a few years.

Reality: Community colleges have played a role in teacher preparation since their inception in the early 20th century. Much of their original function was to provide the foundation for upper division coursework. Due to legislation and community needs, this role has greatly evolved and expanded in recent years. National community college associations report 47 percent of community colleges had teacher education programs in 2008.

Myth #3: Community college faculty do not have adequate academic preparation or backgrounds to teach future teachers.

Reality: In community colleges, master’s degree holders fill 71 percent of full-time teaching positions, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.  Many two-year institutions also increasingly prefer job applicants to have some teaching experience or experience with distance learning. In addition to instruction, community college faculty must also keep up with new developments in their field, and collaborate with education, government, business, nonprofit, and community organizations. Community college faculty  members are primarily rewarded for the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms, rather than for research and publishing.

Myth #4: Teacher preparation in the community college is less rigorous than in four-year colleges, and therefore community colleges prepare less qualified teachers.

Reality: In many states, community colleges are under the same state-level requirements for program approval as four-year institutions. Additionally, community colleges often use boards and advisory committees that include members of the K-12 education system to review and approve the quality and variety of course offerings, according to the Education Commission of the States. Students who transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions graduate at the same rate and succeed in their jobs on par with students at four-year colleges and universities who did not transfer.

Myth #5: Community colleges do not have adequate technology to prepare future teachers.

Reality: Community colleges have always responded adroitly to the demands of the times, and technology is the driving force behind the newest test of their agility. Community colleges currently deliver instruction and services to students through distance learning and hybrid course options, course management systems, database services, library systems and online help desks, appealing to both the traditional and non-traditional student.

Myth #6: Community colleges are not allowed to grant teaching certificates or degrees in education.

Reality: Many community colleges offer associate degrees in teaching that transfer to four-year institutions. While most community college programs provide only the first two years of a four-year teacher preparation program, some states are also allowing community colleges to offer full certification programs to meet critical shortages. In addition, the community college baccalaureate has developed in response to increased demands for higher education, combined with cost and capacity concerns associated with four-year institutions. As of 2008, at least one community college in 17 states conferred a bachelor’s degree.

Myth #7: Only a very small percentage of teacher education students attend community colleges.

Reality: Transcript studies on the institutions attended by the nation's current classroom teachers suggest that more than 50 percent attended a community college for at least part of their education. Community colleges often provide the only technology training and most of the general content area courses future teachers receive. It is estimated that four out of 10 teachers complete some of their math and science courses at community colleges, according to the ECS.

Myth #8: Teacher education programs at community colleges do not transfer to four-year institutions.

Reality: Twenty-three states have developed statewide general education common core curricula in which a student who has completed an associate degree or a predetermined transfer block of courses at one institution within the state is considered to have fulfilled comparable lower-division general education requirements at the receiving college or university. At least 17 states have adopted statewide common course numbering systems for academic courses with comparable content at two- and four-year institutions. Community colleges and universities also enter into articulation agreements to guarantee the transfer of courses.

Myth # 9: Future teachers cannot complete their post-baccalaureate education at a community college.

Reality: Many community colleges provide pathways for individuals who already have bachelor's degrees in another profession to switch careers and become certified as teachers. These programs help to recruit mid-career professionals, who have been laid off or are considering a career change, into the teaching profession. According to the National Center for Alternative Certification, in 2007, all 50 states and the District of Columbia reported at least one type of alternate route to teacher certification. Nationwide, there are 130 alternative routes to teacher certification.

Myth #10: Community colleges do not offer in-service or professional development courses or programs for current teachers.

Reality: Community colleges view professional development efforts as part of their mission. Like many of the other community college teacher education strategies, professional development programs are often tied to the needs of the communities in which colleges are located. Community colleges provide a venue and a means for school districts to obtain customized professional development for teachers based on specific district expectations and needs. Courses, workshops and institutes enhance teacher competency in all areas, but more recently, community college professional development efforts often focus on areas related to education reform, such as mathematics, science and technology.